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A Truth Beyond Photojournalism: Cristina de Middel’s Nigerian Journey

Until 2013, Spanish photographer Cristina de Middel had never been to Africa, despite producing the critically acclaimed book, The Afronauts, a work of photographic fiction based on the true story of Zambia’s 1960s failed space program. “I was talking about Africa without having ever been,” she tells TIME. So, when the Lagos Photo Festival offered to show her work in Nigeria, she jumped at the opportunity. “They invited me to stay as much as I wanted, and asked me whether I’d consider doing another project about Africa.”

Following the success of The Afronauts, “a lot of people started sending me references for books to read about the continent,” she explains. “And one of these books was Amos Tutuola’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.”

The book, published in 1954, follows a young Nigerian boy forced to escape from his village, which has come under attack by soldiers. “The only way he can survive is by entering the Bush, this magical territory where no humans are allowed and where all the Yoruba spirits live and fight,” says de Middel. “This kid spent 30 years in the Bush, trying to find his way back home. He was married twice, became a king, a slave, a cow, a jar, a horse, a goat, ate gold, silver and bronze, snakes and snails. He fought two wars and was sentenced to death half a dozen times. All in just a hundred pages.”

In her new photographic series, called This is What Hatred Did, de Middel transposes Tutuola’s story to today’s world. “When I was reading Tutuola’s book, I was drawing sketches of how I would translate it into photographs,” she tells TIME. “I was thinking that, at some point, I’d visit a place where I’d be able to do this project.” That place ended up being Makoko, a slum in Lagos and one of the city’s most popular destinations among photojournalists. “If you’re in Lagos and you want to take pictures of poverty with beautiful light, smoke everywhere and dark waters, that’s where you go.”

De Middel could see and feel the “excitement” when she toured Makoko with other photographers during the Lagos Photo Festival. “It’s a very scary place, and I felt it had a lot of similarities with the Bush, this magical, forbidden place in the jungle. I decided Makoko would make for a great metaphor for the Bush.”

The photographer spent two weeks designing and producing props. “The most difficult part was to get the right birthday cake in Lagos,” she explains. Then, she had to seek permission from the community leaders, or “Kings,” in parts of Makoko before producing, composing and shooting her images.

“This work is a game, but it’s a game I couldn’t play alone,” she tells TIME. “I needed people to take part in it, to understand what I was doing. I was very interested in how the community would participate in the making of their own portraits. Sometimes they did things I didn’t know would happen, and that was the best part of the shoot. That’s what I wanted. In effect, I was generating the performance before acting as a photojournalist by taking pictures of what was happening in front of me.”

The end result, she says, is not a Westerner’s take on Nigeria. “My images include the people’s beliefs, rituals, religions. This is trying to understand from the inside.” Of course, de Middel admits, the final edit will reflect her opinion on her subject’s stories—whether real or imagined—especially when they are compiled in a photobook to be published by the Archive of Modern Conflict in early 2015.

In the meantime, the former photojournalist has no regrets about leaving the world of news behind. “In fact, I wish I’d done The Afronauts ten years ago,” she says. “Now I feel like I’m really documenting places. I feel like I’m finally understanding the stories I’m documenting. The way I approach these subjects is much deeper, and I feel that, as a result, my ideas are much more truthful then when I was a photojournalists. They are less superficial. They are deeper. I’m sure there are a lot of photojournalists who can understand and can explain a situation in their images, but I wasn’t one of them.”


Cristina de Middel is a documentary photographer and artist based in Spain. Her book The Afronauts was awarded the Infinity Award for a Publication in 2013.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent


TIME ebola

Patient Admitted to D.C. Hospital With Ebola-Like Symptoms

The patient had recently traveled to Nigeria

A patient with Ebola-like symptoms who recently traveled to Nigeria has been admitted to Howard University Hospital in Washington D.C., according to a Howard spokesperson, but the person has not yet been confirmed to be infected with the disease.

“In an abundance of caution, we have activated the appropriate infection control protocols, including isolating the patient,” said Howard spokesperson Kerry-Ann Hamilton in a statement.

Hamilton declined to identify the patient, citing privacy concerns. The hospital is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health officials, she said.

This week marks a dramatic escalation in the spread of the deadly Ebola outbreak, which has killed more than 3,000 people in West Africa. If confirmed, the D.C. patient would be the second person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. Earlier this week, a Liberian man was diagnosed with the disease and is currently being treated at a hospital in Dallas.

TIME Disease

What It Will Take to End Polio

President Franklin D. Roosevelt leaves his home at 49 East 65th Street for a short visit to his family estate at Hyde Park, north of New York City on Sept. 27, 1933.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt leaves his home at 49 East 65th Street for a short visit to his family estate at Hyde Park, north of New York City on Sept. 27, 1933. Martin Mcevilly—NY Daily News/Getty Images

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

Franklin Roosevelt never knew the Pakistani babies battling polio today, but he knew their pain. The world is fighting to end that suffering forever

You can still see the ramps and rails at Franklin Roosevelt’s house on East 65th Street in Manhattan—even though they’ve been gone for decades. They’re easily visible in the pictures that decorate the home. They’re visible, too, in the popular iconography of Roosevelt, who was photographed standing countless times after being paralyzed by polio in 1921, but always with a hand on a bannister, an arm on an aide, a cane in his grip—and ramps and rails at the ready.

The six-story Roosevelt house, where the family lived from 1908 until their move to the White House in 1933, is now owned—and was restored—by New York’s Hunter College. These days it’s a place of learning and policy conferences. But it is also a place of historical serendipity.

“When the house was built, it was one of the first private residences in New York that had its own elevators,” Hunter president Jennifer Raab told me as we toured the building this morning. Those became indispensable once FDR became paralyzed, and it was in that house that his kitchen cabinet thus gathered in the four months between his election in 1932 and his inauguration 1933. “The New Deal was born here,” Raab says.

For FDR, there were abundant compensations for polio. As Ken Burns’ documentary The Roosevelts makes clear, the disease deepened and grounded him. It made him a champion of children with polio—an effort that led to the March of Dimes and the later Salk and Sabin vaccines—and for that matter a champion of all people who suffered hardship. It was polio that gave Roosevelt a fuller temperament—and in turn gave the nation a fuller Roosevelt.

There are no such compensations for the handful of children around the world who still contract the crippling disease. On the same morning I was making my visit to the Roosevelt house, word came out of Pakistan that the country is on target to top 200 polio cases in 2014, its biggest caseload since 2000. Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic—the other two are Afghanistan and Nigeria, with 10 and six cases respectively so far this year—and it’s the only one in which the caseloads are moving in the wrong direction.

As recently as 2005, Pakistan’s case count was down to just 28, helping to push polio to the brink of eradication. That same year, however, religious leaders in northern Nigeria declared a boycott of the vaccine, claiming that it contained HIV and was intended to sterilize Muslim girls. This led to a wildfire spread of the Nigerian strain that stretched as far southeast as Indonesia.

But Nigeria got its house in order, and the hot zone now—a more challenging one—has shifted to Pakistan, particularly in the tribal areas in the north and in the mega-city of Karachi. Some of the problem is simply the crowded, unhygienic conditions in Karachi. But the bigger piece is the fighting in the tribal regions, which have made vaccinations difficult or impossible. That’s been exacerbated by Taliban gunmen, who have shot and killed 59 polio field workers and police officers trying to protect them since 2012.

“It’s a very sad thing,” Aziz Memon, head of Rotary International’s PolioPlus team, told TIME by phone from Pakistan today. “We’re trying to get vaccinators on the ground and into the field despite the ban. And now rains and flooding that have broken 100-year-old records are creating more problems.”

Rotary, which has been the point-organization for the eradication of polio for more than 25 years, is being assisted by the Gates Foundation, Save the Children and multiple other international groups, all working to push back against the Taliban blockade. Vaccinators routinely wait at bus stops around Pakistan, climbing aboard and looking for kids who have no vaccination records and administering the drops on the spot. Refugee camps in the war torn tribal regions provide another way of standing between the virus and the babies.

“When the virus is contained like this it’s a good opportunity to step in and control it,” says Memon. “We can also take advantage of the low-transmission season, which starts soon.”

The effort to snuff out polio altogether is more than merely the moral thing, it’s also the practical thing. Bill Gates repeatedly stresses that $1 billion spent per year over the next few years can save $50 billion of the next 20 years, money that would otherwise be spent treating polio and constantly fighting the brushfire war of vaccinating against outbreaks. Eliminate the disease for good and those costs go with it. What’s more, the delivery networks that are put in place to do the job can be easily repurposed to fight other diseases.

None of this long-range thinking makes a lick of difference to the 187 Pakistani children—or the 10 Afghanis or six Nigerians—who forever lost the use of their legs this year. They are paralyzed, as they will be for life. For them, there is no offsetting wealth, no townhouse with an elevator, no path to global greatness. There is only the disease—a pain FDR recognized and fought to fix. In Pakistan, that same fight is being waged today.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME ebola

Ebola Outbreak Contained in Nigeria, Officials Say

After a total of 19 cases and seven deaths

The Ebola outbreak in Nigeria appears to be contained, health officials said Tuesday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that due to a very rapid local and international response, the country may have fully contained its Ebola outbreak. The 21-day incubation period for the disease has passed.

Nigeria saw its first confirmed case of Ebola on July 17 when a Liberian-American man collapsed at a Nigerian airport after traveling from Liberia. The man infected the health workers who treated him, and the country experienced a total of 19 cases and seven deaths. Unlike in other countries like Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, where it took months for Ebola to be recognized, the Nigerian government quickly declared a public health emergency when it discovered the traveler may have come in contact with 72 people at the airport and hospital.

The Nigerian government coordinated the outbreak response with state and national networks and rolled out a massive public education initiative, with trained “social mobilizers” who were deployed to do house to house visits in areas where an Ebola contact resided. Nigeria also recently worked to eradicate polio, and the country tapped into those strategies as part of their response.

Still, if there’s a lesson to be learned from Ebola thus far, it’s not to overestimate containment. As TIME reported last week, there was a period in April when it appeared Guinea’s outbreak had subsided. In actuality, there were several unreported and hidden cases that re-ignited the outbreak with an even greater wave of infections.

TIME ebola

CDC: Cases of Ebola Could Double Every 20 Days

Members of a burial team wearing protective suits bury an Ebola victim in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Members of a burial team wearing protective suits bury an Ebola victim at King Tom Cemetery, which is bitterly resented by residents of the adjoining slum, called Kolleh Town, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Sept. 21, 2014. Samuel Aranda—The New York Times/Redux

A new CDC report predicts the enormous cost of delayed response to Ebola

If Ebola conditions continue without a scaled-up effort, the CDC estimates that cases of Ebola in West Africa will double every 20 days — and in an absolute worst-case scenario without any intervention, numbers could reach 1.4 million by Jan. 20.

Using a new Ebola Response prediction tool, the CDC has published results that show that if current trends continue unimpeded, Liberia and Sierra Leone will have approximately 8,000 total Ebola cases, or 21,000 if the tool accounts for underreporting, by Sept. 20. Liberia will account for about 6,000 of those cases.

The numbers are frighteningly high, but it should be noted that it’s a prediction of a hypothetical situation in which absolutely no intervention were to happen. That won’t be the case if many countries and the UN keep their promises. The model also shows that a big response could turn the outbreak around. In another hypothetical situation, the outbreak could ease up and eventually end if 70% of people with Ebola are placed in medical care facilities, Ebola treatment units, or somewhere where transmission could be contained.

“The model shows that a surge now can break the back of the epidemic,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, in a press conference. “The importance of implementing effective programs rapidly cant be over-emphasized. The cautionary finding of the modeling is the enormous cost of delay.”

During the press conference, Dr. Frieden said the outbreak is very fluid and changing, but that he does not think West Africa will meet their worst case scenario predictions. “If you get enough people effectively isolated, the epidemic can be stopped…Even in dire scenarios, if we move fast enough we can turn it around. I do not think the most dire circumstances will come to pass,” he said.

The CDC report comes out on the same day the World Health Organization released their reports on the outbreaks at six months in all affected countries, and it appears that cases in Nigeria and Senegal have stabilized “for the moment.” Last week, President Obama announced a deployment of 3,000 U.S. military personnel and over $500 million in defense spending to go to West Africa, and the UN announced a new task force called the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response. The hope is that an exponentially increased response will prevent these possible scenarios.

TIME ebola

There Could Be 20,000 Ebola Cases by November if More Isn’t Done Now

Ebola Lessons
Nurses train to use Ebola protective gear with World Health Organization, WHO, workers, in Freetown, Sierra Leone on Sept. 18, 2014. Michael Duff—AP

Public-health experts warn that the epidemic could turn from “a disaster into a catastrophe”

A new study by the World Health Organization released on Tuesday warned of 20,000 Ebola cases worldwide in just over a month’s time if authorities failed to ramp up efforts to combat the growing epidemic.

“We estimate that, at the current rate of increase, assuming no changes in control efforts, the cumulative number of confirmed and probable cases by November 2 will be 5,740 in Guinea, 9,890 in Liberia, and 5,000 in Sierra Leone, exceeding 20,000 cases in total,” read the report published in the New England Journal of Medicine this week.

The Ebola virus is spread primarily through exposure to body fluids of symptomatic patients. Transmission of the virus is prevented through early diagnosis, contact tracing, patient isolation and infection control along with the safe burial of those killed by Ebola.

However, the virus has primarily hit impoverished West African communities, where many of these protocols are difficult or impossible to enforce.

“If we don’t stop the epidemic very soon, this is going to turn from a disaster into a catastrophe,” Christopher Dye, a co-author of the study and director of strategy at the WHO, told reporters in Geneva. “The fear is that Ebola will become more or less a permanent feature of the human population.”

The publication of the new report comes as Sierra Leone concluded an ambitious lockdown of the country for three days by effectively asking its 6 million residents to stay at home while approximately 30,000 volunteers and health officials canvassed the country to distribute soap and instructions on how to prevent contraction of the virus.

There are currently 5,833 recorded cases of Ebola across six African nations. The disease has killed at least 2,833 people.

TIME ebola

Ebola ‘Pretty Much Contained’ in Senegal and Nigeria

Christopher Dye, Director of Strategy of the World Health Organization speaks to the media about Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa, during a press conference, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva on Sept. 22, 2-14.
Christopher Dye, Director of Strategy of the World Health Organization speaks to the media about Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa, during a press conference, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva on Sept. 22, 2-14. Salvatore Di Nolfi—EPA

Good news for containment of an outbreak that has killed more than 2,800 people

The outbreaks of Ebola in Senegal and Nigeria have been “pretty much contained,” the World Health Organization said Monday.

There have been no new confirmed cases of Ebola in Senegal since the first case was reported Aug. 29, and the last case of Ebola reported in Nigeria was Sept. 8, the WHO’s regional office for Africa said in a statement. The news comes on the same day the WHO released details from the second meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on Ebola. One of the top conclusions from the group was that travel and trade should continue in West Africa:

“Flight cancellations and other travel restrictions continue to isolate affected countries resulting in detrimental economic consequences, and hinder relief and response efforts risking further international spread,” the committee said.

The Committee reiterated WHO stances on making sure health care workers are protected from possible infections and ensuring people who are quarantined still have access to food and water.

There are currently 5,833 cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Senegal, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (though the DRC outbreak is thought to be unrelated to the others). Among those cases, 2,833 people have died.

 

TIME ebola

Timeline: The Worst Ebola Outbreak in History

As Ebola continues to ravage West Africa, follow this outbreak's most critical moments

TIME Nigeria

Supporters of Nigerian President’s Re-Election Bid Are Using a Terrible Hashtag

Nigeria's President Jonathan attends the Africa Union Peace and Security Council Summit on Terrorism at the KICC in Nairobi
Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan attends the Africa Union Peace and Security Council Summit on Terrorism at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi on Sept. 2, 2014 Thomas Mukoya—Reuters

A campaign hashtag derived from #BringBackOurGirls is doing the rounds even though the abducted schoolgirls remain missing

In an ill-advised political maneuver, supporters of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan have begun using the hashtag #BringBackGoodluck2015 to support the incumbent leader’s re-election bid.

The campaign is generating controversy because of its similarity to #BringBackOurGirls, one of the biggest social-media pushes of the year that was launched to demand the return of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted in April by terrorist group Boko Haram. The al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists have threatened to sell the girls as slaves.

What makes the repurposing of the hashtag even more unpalatable is that the victims have still not been rescued, despite a raft of promises by Jonathan’s government. The Nigerian military says it is reluctant to take concrete action lest Boko Haram kills the girls in response, reports the BBC.

Although #BringBackGoodluck2015 may not be officially used or endorsed by the President personally, it has appeared on banners and posters at several campaign events across the country. It also continues to do the rounds on Twitter, prompting widespread outrage.

A few users have spun the debate, though, by saying that it has, intentionally or not, reignited global conversation around the abducted schoolgirls.

But unwitting benefits aside, there appears to be little real defense for what the Washington Post says is likely “the most inappropriate political hashtag of the year.”

TIME Infectious Disease

Ebola Cases Spiking in West Africa As Death Toll Nears 2,300

People wait to be admitted into an Ebola treatment facility in Monrovia, Liberia, on Sept. 5, 2014.
People wait to be admitted into an Ebola treatment facility in Monrovia, Liberia, on Sept. 5, 2014. Daniel Berehulak—The New York Times/Redux

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone together experienced a 49% increase in cases in just the last three weeks

Cases of Ebola in West Africa are continuing to rise exponentially, with Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone together experiencing a 49% increase in cases in just the last three weeks.

New data released Tuesday by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that there are now a total of 4,269 cases in the three countries, including 2,288 deaths. Liberia alone has experienced a 68% increase in cases in the last three weeks. Localized clusters of Ebola have also been emerging in Nigeria and Senegal, where authorities have reported a combined total of 24 cases and eight deaths.

On Monday, the WHO released data on the troubling number of cases in Liberia, citing concerns that families riding in taxis or motorbikes to hospitals are spreading disease that way. Fourteen of Liberia’s 15 counties now have confirmed cases of the disease, and so far 152 health care workers have been infected, with 79 dying from the disease. The organization says it expects thousands of new cases in the next three weeks, and has called for all involved parties to at a minimum, triple their efforts.

Also on Tuesday, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced that it is helping the African Union mobilize an additional 100 African health workers to help fight the outbreak with $10 million of funding. So far the U.S. has spent a reported $100 million responding to the outbreak.

The WHO has said that Liberia in particular needs better ideas for containing the disease. “Conventional Ebola control interventions are not having an adequate impact in Liberia, though they appear to be working elsewhere in areas of limited transmission, most notably in Nigeria, Senegal, and the Democratic Republic of Congo,” the WHO wrote in a recent update.

Dr. Kent Brantly, one of the American Ebola survivors who was infected in Liberia, agrees that regular methods aren’t working there. In an essay for TIME, Brantly wrote: “People are fearful of isolation units because “that is where you go to die.”…Perhaps we need to find a way to provide safe home care that protects the caregivers.”

Meanwhile in the U.S., Emory University Hospital received a third Ebola patient to its isolation unit on Tuesday morning. This is the fourth patient to be evacuated from West Africa to be treated with the disease in the U.S.

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